Harvest Kitchen: Leeks and Shallots

December 1, 2023

By Roberta Bailey

At the end of each year, I evaluate what I have grown and how I will shift strategies for the following growing season. If I had a bumper crop of tomatoes, and the larder is now flush with canned tomatoes and salsa, I know that I can grow fewer tomato plants in the next year. If a variety didn’t do well for me in Maine, I scrap it or decide to give it another chance the following year, just in case it was due to the weather. As I get older, I am always looking to simplify. I gravitate towards the varieties that have done well for me in my microclimate. I reduce more varieties than I add. But this past year, I did add shallots.

Until now, I had never grown shallots. I dismissed them as labor-intensive, too much peeling for a small amount of “onion.” I grew them this year as a gift for a friend, and also because I decided it was time to give them a fair trial. I grew them from seed and they did fine with all the rain and cool temperatures.

In September, I did a taste test of my favorite onions and leek, alongside two types of shallots. My small trial included Lincoln leeks (which I grow because they have very long shafts and store well all winter), Walla Walla onions (which stood out as having remarkably good flavor in an onion taste trial), Talon onions (which I grow for winter storage), Glacier Rose shallots and Cuisse de Poulet du Poitou shallots.

I sautéed each variety separately in butter. The Walla Walla onion had a sweet, full onion flavor profile. The Talon was very mild and sweet. The two shallots had subtle differences. Glacier Rose, which is a large, round shallot that forms clusters and stores very well, had a diverse and sweet flavor profile, but the Cuisse de Poulet du Poitou, which are elongated rusty rose-skinned shallots, had a sweet and slightly fuller complexity in its flavor profile. I didn’t catch the garlic notes that are sometimes mentioned in descriptions of shallot flavor. The Lincoln leek, with its sharp green complexity, stood out as a very different class of allium.

The shallots flavor really shone through when I very lightly browned and crisped them. Wow. There was the real flavor, and the reason to add them to my regular growing list. And so began an exploration of recipes with shallots and substituting shallots in recipes that call for onions. I have learned that professional chefs combine shallots, leeks and onions or garlic to add a deeply complex flavor profile to the base of a recipe. Raw shallots (often finely sliced) are used in place of onion as they are milder. Leeks can be interchanged with onions for a slightly different flavor profile. I value leeks for their added green color and the nutrients associated with green vegetables.

You can find shallots and leeks at a farmers’ market and some supermarkets. Or consider growing them. Store shallots like onions in a cool, dark, airy place. I store leeks in our root cellar, in a five-gallon bucket with wet shavings in the bottom, the leek roots tucked into the shavings, and a plastic bag over the lightly trimmed tops.

Here are some recipes that I found made the shallot and leek flavors stand out. Try substituting them for onions in your favorite recipes. Or add all of them.

Triple Allium Tart

Makes one 10-inch tart.

  • 1 lb. leeks
  • 1 lb. shallots
  • 1 lb. onion
  • 4 Tbsp. butter
  • 1-2 Tbsp. water
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh thyme, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Galette crust (recipe below)

Trim the tough green leaves off the leek(s). Wash thoroughly. Cut in half lengthwise and slice crosswise into 1/4-inch rings. Peel the shallots and onions. Slice into 1/4-inch slices.

Heat a sauté pan, and add the butter and 1 Tbsp. water. Once the butter is melted, add the leeks, shallots and onions. Sauté until tender, about 10 minutes, adding the thyme in the last few minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To prepare a galette dough, combine:

  • 1 cup white flour (can be half whole wheat)
  • 3 ounces butter
  • 2 Tbsp. ice water
  • 1 egg yolk with 1 Tbsp. cream whisked into it

Slice the cold butter thinly and mix it into the flour, leaving it a bit chunky. Chill dough for one hour. Roll into a circle 2 inches larger than your pie tin. The dough will be about 1/8-inch thick.

Transfer to a 10-inch pie plate lined with parchment.

Add the sautéed shallot, leek and onion filling. Fold the outside inch or so of crust edges over the filling. Brush with the egg yolk and cream mixture. Bake at 400 F for 20-30 minutes, until the crust is nicely browned.

Harvest Kitchen 1

Balsamic Shallots or Leeks

Serves four.

  • 15-20 shallots or 2 large leeks, or a mixture of both
  • 3-4 Tbsp. butter or olive oil
  • 1 pinch of sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Balsamic vinegar

Peel the shallots. Trim and clean the leeks. Then slice them into 1/4-inch rings. Sauté them in the butter until soft and slightly browned. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle lightly with balsamic vinegar.

Shallot Vinaigrette

Makes 3/4 cup.

  • 2 shallots, peeled and finely diced
  • 1/4 tsp. minced garlic (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. sherry vinegar
  • (Or 4 Tbsp. of your preferred vinegar combination; you can substitute half lemon juice)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Place the diced shallots in a bowl with the vinegars (and lemon juice if using). Mash the minced garlic with the salt, rubbing it under the edge of your knife blade. Stir the garlic salt mash into the vinegar and shallots. Let rest for 20-30 minutes. Whisk in the olive oil.

shallots

Shallot and Cucumber Pickle

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup organic cider or white vinegar
  • 4 whole kaffir lime leaves, fresh or dried
  • 3 thin slices fresh ginger root
  • 1/4 cup sugar or 2 Tbsp. honey
  • 1 lb. small pickling or Kirby-style cucumbers
  • 2-3 ounces shallots

In a small saucepan, combine the water, vinegar, lime leaves, ginger, sugar and salt. (If using honey, add at the end of the simmer time.) Bring the brine to a boil and cover with a lid. Lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Add honey now, if using.

While vinegar is simmering, wash, peel and remove ends from cucumbers. Slice into thin rounds and place them in a bowl. Peel and thinly slice the shallots. Mix them in with the sliced cucumber. At this point, either leave them in a bowl where the mixture can marinate or pack them into a clean glass quart jar. Pour the vinegar mixture through a sieve and into the jar or serving bowl. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 2-24 hours. The pickles are now ready. They can be stored, covered in the refrigerator, for up to three weeks.

Winter Squash Pickles with Shallots

  • 3/4 cup rice or white wine or white balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tsp. yellow mustard seed
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. curry powder
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 2 slices fresh chile (optional)
  • 1 cup peeled, thinly sliced winter squash
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots

Sterilize a pint or 1-1/2 pint canning jar. Combine the vinegar, water, mustard seed, salt, sugar, curry powder, thyme and chile in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for three to five minutes to develop flavor. Add the squash and shallot slices and cook for a few minutes until just tender. Do not cook until the squash is overly soft. Transfer to the jar, cap loosely and let cool. These pickles store in the fridge for up to six months.

butternut squash

Fermented Leek Paste

Adapted from “Fermented Vegetables” by Kirsten and Christopher Shockey.

Makes about 1 quart. Use the paste to enhance soup, sauces, salad and salad dressing.

  • 1 1/2 lbs. leeks, light green parts included
  • 1 tsp. unrefined sea salt

Clean the leeks and cut into 1-inch pieces; put the pieces in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Sprinkle the chopped leeks with 1 tsp. salt. They will become juicy immediately.

Pack the leek paste into a sterilized quart jar. Water will continue to release from the leeks as you pack the paste, forming a brine that should rise above the leeks. Place a quart-sized zipper storage bag on top of the paste and press the bag into it, then fill it with water and seal it. The bag acts as a weight to keep the vegetables below the brine.

Set the jar on a rimmed baking sheet or inside a bowl to catch any brine that might overflow. Place it out of direct sunlight, preferably in a location with that remains cool. Allow the leek paste to ferment for 5 to 10 days, checking on it daily to make sure the paste remains submerged beneath the brine. If you see scum appear on top, skim it off. At day five, start testing the flavor of the leek paste. The ferment is ready when its verdant green color dulls and the pungency of the leeks has softened; their flavor will have become pleasantly sour.

You can then tamp down the paste to make sure the leeks are submerged in brine, add a lid, and store in the fridge, where it will keep for six months.

Leek and Shallot Potato Mushroom Soup

Serves four to six.

To make stock:

Simmer 2 ounces dried mushrooms, 4 ounces of fresh mushrooms (can use stems and odd pieces), one medium onion, 1-1/2 cups chopped leek greens, one carrot, one stalk celery, six sprigs of parsley, two cloves garlic, two bay leaves, and 8 cups of water for one hour. Strain.

For the Soup:

  • 4 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 cup diced shallot
  • 1/2 cup diced red onion
  • 8 ounces leeks, sliced into rings, some light green included
  • 1 lb. potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 6-7 cups stock (see above)
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 12-16 ounces mushrooms, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • ½ cup to 1 cup light cream (optional)
  • Sea salt and pepper
  • Minced fresh herbs: choose a combination of parsley, chervil, tarragon, thyme or chives

Melt 3 Tbsp. of butter in a soup pot; add the shallot, onion and leeks. Cook over high heat for several minutes, stirring frequently, then lower the heat and add the potatoes, salt to taste, and 2 cups stock. Cover the pot and stew the vegetables for 10 minutes.

Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter and the olive oil in a wide skillet. Add the mushrooms; sauté until they begin to soften and release their juices. Add 1/2 tsp. salt and the wine. Sauté until the wine is reduced and syrupy. Add to the potato mixture, and add the remaining stock. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 25-30 minutes. Add the cream, if using. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Serve the soup garnished with fresh herbs.

This article was originally published in the winter 2023-24 issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener.

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